tv Firing Line With Margaret Hoover PBS April 13, 2019 5:30am-6:01am PDT
>> with a reputationon of speakg ruth to power, h.r. mcmas became president trump's second national security adviser, this week on "firing line." >> he's a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience. >> a warrior, a scholar, and three-star general, h.r. mcmaster arrived at the white house after a stord career in the army, commanding troops on the battlefield in both iraq wars he authored a book aut what went wrong during the vietnam war, including that olvilian and military leaders told lies based onics. >> these were men who not only would have known better b did know better and who made these decisions anyway. >> at the white house, mcmter convinced the president to send more troops to afghanistan. but he also found himself at odds with his boss over other opolitical threats. >> i'm surprised there were any russian cyber experts available... uckles ] ...based on how active most of them have been in undermining our democracies in the west.t
has been one year since he left the white house. what does h.r. mcmaster say now? >> "firing line with margaret hver" is made possible by... corporate funding is provided by... and by... >> welco back to "firing line," general h.r. mcmaster. >> thanks, margaret. it's great to beere with you. >> you are a three-star general, retired now from the army. you are a best-selling author, a yd in history from unc chapel hill, a were president trump's national security adviser. now you're a senior fellow at the hoover institution... >> yes.
>> ...ere i am also affiliated. >> right. >> i want to take you back to that moment 24 days into the trump admistration, when vineral flynn loses his job as national security r and somebody reaches out to you and asks you to consider coming to work for president trump for a position that you exhaustively researched in your writing. where were you? what were you thinking when you were contacted? >> well, i was walkingn my hometown of philadelphia to a think tank called the foreign policy research institute. and i was reporting out on study i had commissioned about russia's systematic subversion of the west, as well as the combination of new military capabilities that we had seen in the annexation of crimea and tho invasiukraine. and my phone rang, and it was a 202 number and it was the deputy chief of staf the white house saying, "can you go to mar-a-lago tomorrow to interview?" >> is that a little ironic? >> [ laughs ] it is. i mean, of course, it was a colete surprise to me to b
considered for the job even, but, of course, i was gratefule for portunity, having studied the importance of that position and having, at least from a historical perspective, an understanding of how a naonal security adviser an the national security council staff should support a president and an administration. >> you are an army general. you retired as a three-star. but for three decades, you i servthe army. you also went to valley forge military academy and also west point. >> right. >> where was it in your early childhooor development that inspired you to serve in the army and have a career in the army? >> from my earliest memory, i ponted to serve in the army. and i think i was d to military service because my father was an officer in the army reserve. he was a first sergeant and then became a captain and a company commander later. going back to age 3, i just thought i wanted to lead myldiers and serve in our >> when you were 28 years old, when you served in the first iraq war, you led what many havd
cane of the last great tank battles of the 20th century, thett of 73 easting. tell us what that battle was and why it was noteworthy. >> as a calry regiment, our mission was to find the enemy, to find out where the enemy's strong, where the enemy's weak, and help pull in the heavy divisions into pitions of advantage. well, what happened is -- it was raining ally hard. for a desert, it was really wet. and then there was fog that morning, and that was replaced by a sandstorm. and then we made conct with -- it was called the tawakalna division of the republican guard. and we assaulted their densive positions -- >> and you were outnumbered, in terms of cavalry and -- >> we were outnumber significantly. we were. and, you know, really, the outcome was a lopsided victory. thankfully, in our cavalry troop, we suffered no casualties. h trained really hard and ogilt up that confidence in our ability to fighther as a team. >> but there's a story about yoa finally grng from west point, serving in the army,
and the end of the cold war coming -- and a story that your wife quipped, "you're just bitter the cold war's over because you're not actually gonna see real combat." >> [ lghs ] well, i think it was kind of a triumphant period, right? we had, you know, the enof the cold war, the collapse of the soviet union. yr cavalry regiment actua was a border cavalry regiment, so the troopers in my cavalry troop had been on the border that day that east germany lifted travel restrictions to the west. and from one moment, they were staring down east german border guds. e next moment, they were swamped with east germans with bouquets of flows and bottles of wine. and so we saw this dramatic end to the cold war, and t shortly thereafter, we had this lopsided victory in desert storm. and so i think the '90s became a period of tremendous confidence, confidence in our power. and, of course, now we know that geopolitics, competition with authoritarian and closed systems is back.av and weto re-enter arenas
t competition, i think, that we largely vacated t very over-optimistic period in the 1990s. >> after the gulf war, you went to unc chapel hill and got a doctorate in htory, and your dissertation, your doctoral dissertation ended up becoming a widely reviewed, well-critiqued book about the johnson adminiration's civil and military leaders during the vietnam war and what went wrong. >> right. >> and it brought you to this program, "firing line," in 1998. >> it did. >> i'd like to have us take a look of a younger h.r. mcmaster with william f. buckley jr.
>> well, no, i think what they should have done is told the truth, and they were givenpo unities to do so. >> what is the major lesson? >> i think there are a number of important lessons from the vietnam war that i brought with me to my duties and responsibilities in the white house. and the first of those was really the need to ensure that you clearly define what you're trying to achieve in war. i thk what was striking abou how and why we went to war in vietnam and hothose decisions were made is that there was really a deliberate effort not to establish an objective. >> the president's objectives were actually his short-termpo tical goals, at the expense
of a national-security strategy. exactly. and he was so focused on his domestic priorities that he saw vietnam really almost exclusively as ao dangerose domestic goals. and what he wanted to do was forestall any kind of about what to do in vietnam. and what's ironic about this is -- lyndon johnson didn't want to go to war in vietnam, i don't hethink, but every decisio made led, what seems to be in retrospect, inexorably toward that end. o of the things you're most noted for in your tenure as national security adviser to president trump was putting together a national-security strategy that was comprehensive within the ainistration. it included our economic strategy. it included all elements of our defense strategy. was that a lesson you drew directly from yo research and your writings about vietnam? >> i do think it was, in large measure, based on the research i had done on vietnam but, really, the research i had done across the cold war period as a historian and then the
experience i had in the '90s. and then, i think, in the early 2000s, the experience associated with precipitous withdrawal from iraq and the unenforced redline in syria, i think we actually swung from over-optimism in the '90s to almost, you know, pessimism or defeatism, even, in the 2000s and the belief that our disengagement from these complex problems overseas was an unmitigated good. and so i thought that what we really needed to do warestore our strategic competence as a nation. >> it strikes me that the other lesson that you've taken was the imrative of civilian and military leaders to tell the truth. what was your experiences national security adviser? it seems to me that telling the trutin this white house wasn always rewarded. >> well, i think telling the truth is always rewarded in the long run, right? and, so, i think those who sometimes feel conflicted -- you know, "should i tell the boss wh the boss doesn't want t hear?" it's maybe an opportunity to
examine what their baseon motivaare, right? so i think what was liberating for me, in large measure, is --a i mean, i wasnling for another job, right? and i just knew that i could best serve the president by giving the president not my int of view as a national security adviser, but the best advice from ordinating and integrati across all the departments and agencies. >> you were national security adviser for a year. >> right. 13 months. >> 13 months. >> [ laughs ] >> for a little more than a i year. an, is that partly because of the lessons you learned about character and truth-telling from reviewing history? >> well, you know, i wasn't really concerned abou know, how long i was gonna -- >> i know you're not concerned about it, but that wasn't my question. >> well, sometimes, in these lind of jobs, especially in a contentious politi environment that -- you know, really, this was my first assignment in washington, right? and i knew that, you know, i had a shelf life, you know, and it was gonna use me up, as it would probably anybody in that role. but i didn't want to give the president the disservice of
lling the president what i thought he wanted to hear. and hopefully those who are there today are doing the same thing, and many of my colleagues across the cabinet were doing it. and i think the president appreciated it. a and then thereroup who think that they're there to save, you know, the country, the world, you know, from president, you know, like the new york times op-ed author, whoever that is. a i think thatremendous disservice -- >> i think you're saying it wasn't h.r. mcmaster?ur >> no, of it wasn't. but i think that's a circumvention of the constitution. >> yeah. >> nobody elects, you know, generals or intelligence professionals or foreign-service officers to make policy. our government places sovereignty with the people. the people exercise that vereignty through elections. and unelected officialsak shouldn't beg policy. they should be helping to, you know, try to execute poly. >> when you told him the truth, was that valued? >> i think it was valued, certainly, and, really, without exception. and i think that the president recognized that what we're trying to do is to help him make the best decision for the
american people, which was what he wanted to do, and then to assist with the implementation of his policies and decisions.in i one example of many is the development of theh soia strategy. now, there's been some shifting in terms of our approach to south asiabut, remember, the president wrote into the speech that he delivered in augus of -- >> 2017. i'm actually gonna show a clip of that, actually, if you don't mind, because the president ran on draown and having a lighter footprint in afghanistan, and, ultimately, what ended up happening was -- he sent more tops to afghanistan. so, here is the president in 2017. t>> all my life, i've heat decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the oval office. in other words, when you're president of the united states. conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, ll guide our strategy from now on. beerica's enemies must never know our plans oeve they can wait us out.
>> what was the argument or the series of arguments that were made to the president that helped him change his thinking about afghanistan and our engagement tre? >> what we were able, i think, to present to the president is a way for us to really achieve a sustainable outcome in afghanistan, a country that is really fundamentally transformed from what it was in 2001, and to prevent what we all, you know, don't want to have happen oree happen, which was to see a terrorist organization gain control of territory, populations, and resources that allow them to generate, you know, the resources they need and plan, prepare, and executeck at and, you know, of course, this isn't a theoretical scenario. it was that condition that led to the mass-murder attacks against our nation on september 11, 20. >> i know you've thought a lot about the military history, but what about the political history? what do you think it takes for political actors to persuade the american peoplto have the will
to stay? >> right. why does this conflict and achieving a favorable outcome there matter to americans?te i think it m to our security. but what is the strategy that will deliverhe desired outcome at a cost acceptable to the erican public? and their true test of strategy, i think, is -- as a lieutenant in our army, can you explain to your platoon how the risk that your soldiers are gonna take,ic how the sacr they may be called on to make will achieve an outcome worthy of those risks and worthy of those sacrifices? >> but do you think our political leaders are doing that now with the american people? >> i don't think we're doing it enough. no, i don't.re >> thedent has recently just done a victory lap on isis. he said, "we've defeated isis." have we defeated isis? >> no, we've not defeated is or groups that can emerge next. >> so, let me play a clip from the president about isis being defeated. >> we just tk over. you know, you kept hearing it was 90%, 92%, the caliphate in syria. now it's 100%.ve
we just took 100% caliphate. that means the area, the land, we just have 100%. >> why is he saying that if it's not true? >> well, i think it's true maybi rily, but what's not true about it is -- it's not true that they're 100% defeated, because what these groups do --n we've seen the pattern so many times -- is they'll shift their tactics. they'll stay alive. and so how do you break that cyclof violence in the long term? there's a political element of it, but, certainly, there's a a soci economic. we need sensible strategies in place that allow us to galvanize efforts of others. >> i want toet to the national security strategy that you outlined and the three pillars of it you have, the revisionist powers, rogue regimes, and transnational terrorist organizations. china and russia are sort of thte two ascendant revision powers that you talk about a lot. how do you think about engaging china and u.s. military strategy vis-à-vis china? o
>> well, i thi approach to china -- and our approach to russia, by the way -- was, iec think, ad by what we might call strategic narcissism, right? this is this idea th whatever we do is gonna be decisive. s d we tended, i think, to define the world'd like it to be. what we did in the national security strategy isll take a rhard look at, "what are the emotions and aspirations that drive and constrain the policies of the chinese communist party?" the chinese communist party,y, toas maybe a million and a half people in concentrations, cae-education camps. they're establishing a surveillance state tha beyond george orwell's dystopian vision in the novel "1984." why e they doing that? they're doing that because the chinese communist party is obsessed with maintaining exclusive control, and they fear fragmentation or a loss control. that means they also have toet he expectations of their population.
there's no longer a maoist commust ideology. there's a communist-light ideology now. and, so, t chinese communist party believes that it has to grow the economy at very high rates. to do that, they're employing a broad range of unfr trade and economic practices that threaten our interests, but, also, it's driving them to a ry aggressive foreign policy, because part of keeping the chinese people loyal to this exclusive control of the chinese communist party, they have this narrative of natnal rejuvenation, the return of china to greatness. back to the other revisionist power that you mentioned initially that you were working on at the time that you got the call to become the tional security adviser. how much are russians interfering th our elections and the democracies of our european nato allies? >> right. they're operating against thunited states and car european allies every day. this is a sustaineaign of
subversion by the russians. it is, i think, a neform of warfare. in particular, it's this cyber-enabled information warfare.wh and i believ russia's trying to do, primarily, is polarize our polity and pit us against each other. >> mm-hmm. >> and so that's why you see the support fothese, you know, crazy right wing sites and crazy left wing sites. and if you look at about the percentage of the traffic, thege percenf russian bot and troll messaging, about 80% of it was around race and trying to divide americans over issues of race. they also used other hot-button topics, right? gun control, immigration. and they selected the issues because they thought they were most polarizing. and, so, what's sad to me is that we've played into russia's hands by the vitriolic -- you know, the polarized, ptisan narrative. i mean, i think that it's time now for us to have non-partisan discussions abt the greatest challenges to our country.
>> one of the things you did when you were a nationalis security a was that you went to the munich security conference and you calledut the russians. you said, "the russians had intervened our elections, and that fact was incontrovertible." >> right. >> but it wasn't what your boss was saying at the time. >> well, you know, i think there's a tendency, maybe on the part of the president, but on many people, to conflate, really, three separate issues.on is -- did russia meddle in the election? heck yes, they did. and th did it with a purpose of really undermining our confidence, as i mentioned, in who we are, but also to undermine our confidence in our democratic institutions and processes. the second question is -- were they trying to bias the resus in favor of one candidate or another? i think that's still debatable. most of the intelligence community has said they did favor president trump, based on the negative -- you know, the negative campan against hillary clinton. but i'm not 100% convinced of that. >> i mean, there's a good reason vladimir putin didn't like hillary clinton. i mean, she was strongly againsr hiidency, as well.
>> well, i guess just quickly, i'll say the third issue is -- did it change the result? and i think the president and some others -- you know, they see the legitimacy of the presidency wrapped up in all of this. so, i think what we ca agree is -- yes, of course, they meddled. yes, they wanted to polarize us. think about, you know, really how the russians played all sides in a brilliant way. >> would he view this as an indictment on the legitimacy of his election? so, doou think he sees that as a threat? do you think he sees the russian meddling in the american elections as a threat? >> well, i mean, i hope that the president does and all the american people do. and i think we need to have a discussion about, "okay, what do we do about it now?" but i think whenever we presented options to the president on what to do to nfront russia's destabilizing behavior, he took very strong action. i i thinthat first year, we sanctioned over 200 russianes entihat were associated with this activity but also with the ongoing russian aggression in ukraine and syria.
one of the messages i tried to deliver to my russian counterpart at one point was that, "hey, the only thing that the u.s. congress can agree on is to sanction russia. so if you think that byin attaour democratic systems and our processes and trying to polarize american society is weakening our resolve to confront russian aggression, it's having the opposite effect. >> let me just ask you real quick about the defense budget -- over $700 billion. we are the most expensive military in the world. we are well-resourced, thankfully. but are those resources, in your view, being directed, effectively, towards developing the capabilities that we'll need to challenge and to tackle the threats that you've outlined in our national security strategy document? >> well, i think we have to worb every day to esh a stronger logic trail between what we see as --
>> a logic tra? >> a logic trail from what we see as the problems of fute armed conflict, future threats to us, which, of course, n are not just conventional threats but also unconventional threats and the efforts by china, tssia, others to achieve objectives below teshold of armed conflict and, as we understand those threats, based on a grounded projection into the future, develop solutions to those capabilities. in the '90s, you know, when we had this -- u know, this tremendous overconfidence -- wght? -- the language in defense strategi really dominance. everything was dominant.go we wera have full-spectrum dominance over every enemy in the future. and the phrase that became populain this period of time is, "we'll have a capabilities-based approach. we'll just envision the capabilities we want in the future, way out there, and those capabilities will be dominant in futu well, guess what. i mean, we're continuously
interacting with adversaries. >> and there's never, you know, a future solution that you can yoedict today. i mean, you haveknow, the submarine, the sonar. the bomber, the radar. the tank, the anti-tank missile. and so there's always goa be this continuous interaction. and we have to recognize what our adversaries are doing and then build the range of capabilities to, first of all, convince them that they can't accomplish their objectives through the threat of force, b also that if we do engage in armed conflict, that we have the range of capabilities that we need. >> are we getting it, though? that's the question.ng are we direchat $700 billion in an effective and efficient way to actually address those challenges? be well, i think, in an effective way, yesuse we're beginning to address the bow wave of deferred modernization. in this period of overconfidence, we weren't investing in future capabilities. >> so, are we starting to now? >> we're starting to now.ti >> but only st. >> we're only starting now, really. i mean, i think we were on a path to degraded capabilities in the '90s and the early 2000s, based on some fundamentally
flawedssumptions about the nature of future armed conflict. and, you know, we create these myths about future war and we delude ourselves to thin "well, gosh, really, really, the next war will be fundamentally dierent from all that have gone before it. >> your high school is valley forge military acemy, and they've recently named a securities-studies center in your honor. for those cadets at th whr. mcmaster center for security studies should they be preparing for? >> it's a tremendous honor to have valley forge name the center after me. and i had a great experience there, and hopefully the cadets will benefit from the curriculum associated with that center. it's also kind of a cutting-edge center, in that it's really putting new domains of competition, especially in cyberspace at the center of it, ond it's offering certifications for those who were be those who are gonna help defend us -- right? -- against these kind of pernicious threats that
we see -- russia, china, but ny others. i mean, north korea is very active in offensive cybercrime and capabilities, as we know. the tax on hollywood studios as an example. >> right. >> but the theft of -- you know, and emptying of bank accounts. iran is becoming more effective. this is really, you know, the democratization of a very dangerous capability we'rese ng globally. >> h.r. mcmaster, thank you for returning to "firing line." >> thank you, margaret. h thanks fing me. it's been a real pleasure. thank you. >> "firing line with margaret hoover" is made possib by... corporate funding is provided by... and by...